Even though a relatively simple instrument, the bass certainly has a major part to play in the feel and vibe of your mix.
That’s why many engineers and producers like a dedicated compressor that will translate the groove and punch of a bassline in a mix well…
… so in this guide, we’ll take a look at a few choises, and see which of them is the best compressor plugin for bass.
Quick answer: Softube Tube-Tech CL-1B Compressor is the top choice among engineers. The punch and clarity that it imparts is simply magic to the ears…
Otherwise, Waves Audio C4 offers great value for the money…
While Waves Audio Bass Rider is the cheapest bass dedicated compressor plugin to get.
Let’s take a closer look 🙂
Table of Contents
- Bass Compressor Plugin Buying Guide
- Best Compressor Plugins for Bass – VST, AU, AAX
- Final Thoughts – Which to Get?
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Bass Compressor Buying Guide
What is a Compressor?
A compressor is a hardware or software device that applies compresses to the dynamic range of an audio signal.
They do this by reducing the higher volume sections of the audio and increasing the low volume section. The process is typically done automatically via threshold, ratio, and makeup gain controls.
To understand more about how a compressor works, take a look at our post on audio compressors.
Features to Look for in a Bass Compressor
The most important features of a compressor are their controls.
Compressors typically come with threshold and ratio controls. With these you can set the level where the compression begins to take effect, and the rate at which the compressor ceases to affect the signal.
These controls are pretty much essential for most compression applications, particularly for bass, where control over the punchiness of the sound is crucial.
Control over the attack is also an important feature for bass compressors. In most cases, you will want a small portion of the initial transient to pass through unscathed, in order to provide definition to your bass part. Without an attack control, you pretty much have to make do with how much of the initial transient the compressor circuit allows through.
Ideally, you will also want control over the release parameter. This has a considerable effect over how the individual note fades out, which is crucial for tempo-sensitive musical applications. By being able to control the rate at which the note fades out, you will be better able to shape your bass track in a more rhythmically logical manner.
You can read more about how to properly use a compressor with bass.
Choosing a Compressor Plugin for Bass
Besides knowing what controls you need in a compressor, there’s another good thing to take into consideration when choosing a good bass compressor: sound.
Although transparency is often a desirable quality to have in a compressor, this isn’t necessarily the most essential characteristic in a bass compressor.
In rock or hip-hop music, bass and other tracks are often processed quite aggressively in order to give them sufficient ‘vibe’ and ‘attitude.’
For these purposes, you might be better served by a compressor that imparts a bit of coloration or harmonic distortion to the sound.
With that said let’s take at a few bass compressors for mixing.
Best Compressor Plugin for Bass – VST, AU, and AAX
Softube Tube-Tech CL-1B Compressor
Among compressor plug-ins, the Softube Tube-Tech CL-1B Compressor stands in a class all its own.
It’s modeled after the legendary hardware compressor of the same name, the software version does a great job of making bass tracks–or most any other program material for that matter–stand out in the mix. And it does at the fraction of the cost of the original opto hardware model.
It’s warm, punchy, and solid, the sound that the CL-1B imparts is made even better by the addition of features such as sidechain low-cut filters and parallel blend control.
Specs and useful features
- Upgraded version of popular CL-1B plug-in
- Improved sound via Softube’s latest signal processing technology
- New features such as sidechain low-cut filters and parallel blend control
- High-resolution graphics
- Bundled with legacy CL-1B for backward compatibility
The CL-1B seems to appeal to users that appreciate warm, natural compression as opposed to ultra-squashed sonic treatment. Although it does offer plenty of squishiness when pushed to the extremes, most users favor the warm and transparent quality that it imparts on bass, drums, and vocal tracks. The CL-1B is especially effective at preserving the punch and clarity of bass tracks, even as it adds its own distinctive character.
Pretty much a compressor plug-in that can handle most any task, the CL-1B nevertheless garnered some criticism for its small GUI, the odd behavior of the controls when adjusted via the mouse wheel, and the absence of dry/wet and bypass controls.
The Softube Tube-Tech CL-1B Compressor is one of those plug-ins that just seem to sound great no matter how you set them. Especially effective at bass, it can also easily handle pretty much any compression-related task in the studio.
Of course, versatility and great sound come at a premium, and the CL-1B has a price tag to match. Nevertheless, if you are intent on getting an almost-perfect replication of the hardware Tube-Tech CL-1B compressor, the CL-1B is the best way to get it.
Waves Audio C4
The Waves Audio C4 is a fully-featured multiband dynamics processor that, based on a lot of users, works amazingly well on bass tracks, and could easily handle 90% of other compression needs.
It has control over four parametric bands, along with the ability to expand up and expand down, limit, and compress each of them.
The plug-in also comes with both dynamic and standard EQs, so you’d have the ability to do some precision sculpting with your bass sound.
Specs and useful features
- Multiband compressor plug-in
- Control over four parametric bands
- Precise sculpting of frequency and dynamic response
- Control over different frequencies of the sound
- Dynamic mix shaping via frequency-based compression and expansion
- ARC auto release control
Waves Audio C4 is another compressor plug-in that can handle most any duty in a studio setting. Most users apply it quite liberally to bass and drum tracks, although many have used it to great effect on the master buss as well. For devoted users of the C4, its ability to retain punch and bottom end are among its biggest strengths. The plug-in is especially favored for its ability to make a bass track sit better in a master mix without affecting any other track.
Any complaints? Sure. A common one is about the noise that it can introduce in certain settings. However, this is often dealt with by careful adjustment of the four parametric bands.
The Waves Audio C4 is quite a capable unit that can do more than compress bass tracks. While some plug-ins might be simpler to use for bass and low end instruments, there is no denying the benefits that it can impart to any production.
Waves Audio Bass Rider
Simplicity is key to the appeal of the Waves Bass Rider, which manages to preserve the original character of bass like no other compressor plug-in can.
With its ability to rides bass levels automatically, the Bass Rider is perfectly suited for those times when you just need your bass to poke out more, but you don’t want to kill its dynamics with a compressor.
Specs and useful features
- Automatic level riding
- Optimized for bass
- Retains the bass’ natural character
- Dedicated studio and live components
The Bass Rider seems to appeal mainly to “set-and-forget” users, but even those with more fully-featured compressors can’t help but be swayed by its undeniable simplicity and great sound. The plug-in is especially favored by users that want to have their bass be more present in a mix without necessarily affecting its natural dynamic range.
Of course, some users do wish that they had more control over the character of the sound, but using the Bass Rider in conjunction with another compressor plug-in usually does the trick.
The Bass Rider is a fairly limited plug-in that surprisingly works well for a varied array of applications. If you have a frequent need to have your bass more forward in the mix but you don’t necessarily want a compressor, the Bass Rider might be all the help you’re looking for.
Waves Audio CLA-3A
The Waves Audio CLA-3A has quite a formidable heritage, being based on the classic Teletronix LA-2A compressor from the 1970s. Like its predecessor, the CLA-3A promises to deliver the kind of character and subtle harmonic distortion that you’d expect from the vintage unit. Despite that, it can also be as transparent as you need it to be, which is good.
With its fast response and sidechain frequency filter, the CLA-3A could be just the perfect sonic sauce to spice up the bass tracks in your mix.
Specs and useful features
- Based on the classic Teletronix LA-2A solid-state hardware compressor
- Compressor and limiter modes
- Ideally suited to bass and electric guitar
- Sidechain frequency filter
- Zero latency
A few words seem to sum up the user experiences of the Waves Audio CLA-3A: “simple”, “punchy”, and “in-your-face”. It seems to be an especially popular plug-in among bottom-end merchants, used to great effect in treating bass and even booming 808 kick drums. Many users in fact use it on drums as well as bass, citing its ability to beef up tracks without a lot of fuss and bother.
One thing that many users make note of is the inability to fine tune attack and release times. Although this might be an issue for some, the CLA-3A just sounds so good that most users don’t seem to mind.
Like the Teletronix LA-2A that inspired its design, the Waves Audio CLA-3A is a transparent-yet-punchy compressor that sounds good on most everything, especially bass and drums. If you want a reasonably-priced compressor that can make most any track push its way to the front of a mix, the CLA-3A could be just the thing.
Waves Audio CLA-76
The attack can be set as short as 50 microseconds, providing all the punch you need to make your bass tracks stand out.
The Waves Audio CLA-76 also comes with a unique “ALL” control that lets you replicate the explosive character of the UREI 1176 with all its ratio buttons pushed in.
Specs and useful features
- Based on the UREI 1176 Class-A line level limiting amplifier from the 1960s
- Extremely fast attack
- Exclusive ALL control
- Zero latency
- Pre-amp distortion modeling
The CLA -76 seems to attract users that appreciate the warmth and punchiness that analog tape effortlessly imparts to recordings. More than a few have mentioned the startling similarity between tracks processed by the CLA -76 and tracks flown in from 2-inch tape, citing the smooth and dynamic frequency response.
Interestingly enough, some users also appreciate the aggressive quality that the CLA -76 can impart. A versatile plug-in that can get as aggressive as you need–and yet that can be quite transparent as well–the CLA -76 seems to appeal to a wide variety of users.
Fast attack and a colorful character…these are what the Waves Audio CLA-76 provides in spades. If you are able to catch it on sale, don’t even think: just go and grab it! If you are into vintage character and aggressive rock-style push and presence in your bass, the CLA -76 is a must-have.
Final thoughts – Which to Get?
For mixing applications, the best compressor plugin for bass in this lineup would have to be Softube Tube-Tech CL-1B Compressor. The punch and clarity that it imparts is simply magic to the ears, and it can provide enough squish for any but the most determined audio mangler or dancefloor groove merchant. The price might be enough to give some people reason to consider other options, but if warmth and punchiness are your sonic goals, this one definitely delivers in buckets.
That being said, the Waves Audio CLA-76 and the Waves Audio CLA-3A pose seriously stiff competition to the CL 1B. Modeled after two legendary pieces of hardware, the CLA-3A and the CLA -76 both provide enough character and attitude for even the most discriminating users. For much less cash than the CL-1B alone, you could easily afford to pick up both plug-ins and have all your compression needs covered.
Apart from the Softube CL 1B, which really does belong in its own price range, every other plug-in here provides exceptional value. But special mention must be made of the Waves Audio C4 which does way more than your average compressor plug-in. A multiband processor that wouldn’t be out of place in your master buss, the C4 wins out over all the rest as far as value is concerned.